University of California 2011 Accountability Report

UC as an Engine of Social Mobility: Successes, Challenges and Concerns

"The University of California has been a beacon of hope, the state's best mechanism for economic growth and social mobility for two decades."

Terry Hartle
Senior Vice President, American Council on Education
April 2011


Historically, U.S. public education has served as an engine of social mobility. That at least has been the claim of its proponents through successive generations since the public education movement began in the United States. While the mission has evolved over the years, its thrust has remained fundamentally the same: to give opportunities to students from diverse backgrounds while fueling the nation's economic growth with a more educated workforce.

Introducing the Third Annual University of California Accountability Report, this essay examines the successes and challenges that the University of California faces in continuing this historic public mission. In three sections, it evaluates the extent to which UC undergraduates are drawn from disadvantaged backgrounds and the extent to which they succeed during and after their university careers. The essay also discusses how some of the fiscal challenges currently facing the University, such as proposed reductions in student financial aid at both the federal and state level, could significantly reduce the University's ability to admit and graduate large numbers of disadvantaged students. Disadvantaged students are defined as those from low-income families, those whose parents have not earned a college degree, and those who come from underrepresented minorities (URMs). These are the students who historically, and today as well, have had less access to higher education and less likelihood of graduating from college once admitted.

This essay makes extensive use of corporate data, some of which are included in the body of this accountability report. It also introduces an extensive survey that was conducted in 2010 of UC alumni that graduated in 1989, 1999 and 2004, respectively. Wherever possible, comparisons are made with elite public and private research universities that constitute the Association of American Universities.1

Who Comes?
Access to the University

The University of California seeks to enroll, and graduate, on each of its campuses a student body that demonstrates high academic achievement or exceptional personal talent and that encompasses the broad diversity of backgrounds characteristic of California. One of the major goals of the University, in fact, is to ensure that all qualified and academically well-prepared high school graduates, regardless of race, ethnicity or social class, are afforded the opportunity to earn a baccalaureate degree.

Enrollment of low-income students

Pell grants are the cornerstone federal program for low-income students in higher education, and the number of students receiving Pell grants is often used as a proxy for the number of low-income students on a campus. Eligibility for a Pell grant has changed over the years; in 2010�11 students were eligible for a Pell if their family income was less than about $50,000. In fall 2010, almost 40 percent, or 70,000, of all UC undergraduates were Pell recipients, the largest percentage in the University's history.

The proportion of Pell recipients is significantly higher at UC than at any of its public or private peer comparison institutions. Overall, 31 percent of undergraduates at UC received a Pell grant in 2008�09 compared to 17 percent at the non-UC AAU publics and 13 percent at the AAU privates (Indicator 3.5). The proportion of Pell recipients at individual UC campuses ranged from 25 percent (at Irvine and Santa Barbara) to 42 percent (at Merced and Riverside). But percentages alone do not tell the whole story; to do that, one must also look at the number of students involved. In 2009�10, for example, four UC campuses — Los Angeles, Davis, San Diego and Berkeley — each enrolled more Pell grant recipients than the entire Ivy League combined. As President Yudof has stated, the large number of low-income students enrolled at UC demonstrates that UC remains true to its charter as a public institution.

UC's exceptional success at enrolling low-income students is due, in part, to a combination of two strong need-based aid programs: the University's own institutional aid program and the state's Cal Grant program. UC's need-based grant program is funded, in part, by returning a share of new fee revenue back to financial aid in the form of UC grants. More than 50,000 UC students also currently receive a Cal Grant, which typically covers recipients' systemwide tuition and fees, including tuition and fee increases. Indeed, the existence of this generous state-funded program enables the University to provide grants and scholarships to other students who may not be eligible for a Cal Grant. While students at other institutions often benefit from either a strong institutional aid program or a strong state aid program, UC students benefit from both.

While the total cost of attendance (which includes tuition and fees as well as living expenses) has risen at UC over the past eight years (Indicator 3.1), the amount of financial aid given to UC students has tripled. In 2009�10, for example, UC students received more than $1.5 billion in financial aid: this included $443 million in UC grants; $425 million in Cal Grants funded through the state; and $286 million in federal Pell grants. More than 90 percent of these awards were made to undergraduates, both low- and middle-income students, with financial need. As a consequence, the net cost of attending the University has actually declined for low-income students in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2004�05 (Indicator 3.2).

Students' financial aid packages are often an amalgam of grants, scholarships, parental support, earnings from students' jobs, and student and parent loans, all coming from different sources with different stipulations for repayment (or not), and varying by state and institutional policies; the very complexity of it all may deter some students from even applying for aid in the first place. So it is no surprise that reliable, simple and predictable financial aid is important, especially for low-income students who may come from families that believe that a college education, especially at an elite university, is simply beyond their financial reach.

In part to assure low-income students that they indeed can afford the University, in 2009 the University put in place its Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which is a model of simplicity and clarity. Under the Plan, the University in 2011�12 will ensure that California residents whose families earn less than $80,000 will receive grant and fellowship support to fully cover their systemwide in-state tuition and fees, up to their financial need under federal guidelines.

Enrollment of first-generation students

 A first-generation student comes from a home where neither parent holds a college degree. First-generation status matters: having parents with college degrees can provide students with the role models, family expectations, life experiences and financial resources that ease a student's transition from high school to college and that contribute to their success. Indeed, many studies have shown that first-generation students are less likely to enroll in college and, once enrolled, less likely to graduate compared to students who have a parent with a college degree.

Many first-generation students also come from low-income families as well. At UC, for example, almost two-thirds of first-generation students came from families with incomes below $40,000, and another 22 percent from families with incomes between $40,000 and $80,000; together these two groups account for seven out of eight of all first-generation students. Like low-income students, the proportion of first-generation students is also larger at UC than at any of its comparison institutions. In 2007�08, 42 percent of undergraduate students at UC were first-generation compared to 34 percent at a set of very selective public research universities and 24 percent at very selective private research universities (Indicator 2.5).2 At individual UC campuses, the proportion of first-generation students ranged from 31 percent at Berkeley to 49 percent at Merced and Riverside.

Enrollment of URM students

In fall 2008, 21 percent of UC's undergraduates came from underrepresented minorities (American Indian or Alaska Native, African American, and Hispanic) compared to 12 percent at UC's AAU public peers and 15 percent at its private peers.3 Enrollment of URM students, especially at public institutions like UC that primarily admit in-state students, is shaped to some extent by state demographic profiles. The largest growing minority population in the country, Hispanics, is heavily concentrated in sunbelt states, such as California, Texas, Arizona and Florida.4 However, among AAU publics, Berkeley and UCLA rank medium (in the 15�20 percent range) in terms of the proportion of underrepresented minority students; public flagship universities in Arizona, Florida and Texas, all of which also have substantial Hispanic populations, enroll more than 20 percent underrepresented minority students.

According to the 2010 census, Hispanics constitute almost 38 percent of the population of California, and African Americans 6 percent. However, the proportion of underrepresented minority students is lower at UC than at some of its peer institutions in part because proportionately fewer URM students are academically well prepared for college (and hence do not meet UC's admissions criteria), and in part because of legal restrictions. Beginning with the entering class of 1998, Proposition 209 prohibited the University from considering race and ethnicity in admissions. In addition, highly talented students from underrepresented minorities are highly sought after by elite private universities that do not face the same legal restrictions on affirmative action that UC does and can offer very generous financial aid packages. Despite these challenges, the proportion of UC's enrolled freshmen who come from underrepresented minorities has increased steadily from the low point in 1998. A new freshman admissions policy, effective fall 2012, is designed to broaden the pool of students whose applications will receive a comprehensive review and to possibly increase the number of underrepresented students admitted to UC.

Although historically among the highest in the nation, California's investment in higher education has eroded substantially over the past 20 years. State funding for instruction at UC has declined 50 percent per student since 1990 (Indicator 1.5). Student tuition and fees have been increased in response, but have only partially compensated for the loss of state dollars. Despite substantial reductions in state support, the University has maintained, and in many cases extended, access to disadvantaged low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority students. Certainly, the increased availability of financial aid dollars explains some of this trend, as does UC's commitment to opening up doors of opportunity to all students. Middle-income students, however, are less likely to qualify for need-based grant programs that have offset some or all of recent cost increases for low-income students. Indeed, the share of students from middle-income families has declined slightly (Indicator 3.5). Although more analysis is needed to determine the reasons for this decline, it may be that UC is less attractive to middle-income students than it has been in the past. To address this, the University is considering ways to improve both its message about financial aid for middle-income students and the amount of aid available to those students.

Who Succeeds?
Closing the Achievement Gap

Student success can be defined in different ways: as learning outcomes, job and career success, civic participation, social and economic well-being, a commitment to lifelong learning, or simply as life satisfaction. Most commonly, student success in higher education is defined and measured in terms of graduation rates, with six years being the national standard for freshmen cohorts entering four-year colleges and universities.

Graduation rates are important. Educationally, completing a baccalaureate degree provides recognition that a student has achieved mastery over a specific subject matter and acquired a basic set of social and cognitive skills, such as the ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and work collaboratively with others — all skills that are needed in an increasingly global economy. Psychologically, college graduation symbolizes a student's ability to begin a program and see it through to the end, and in this sense is a measure of persistence. Economically, students who complete a baccalaureate degree have higher annual salaries and greater lifetime earnings than those who do not. According to a 2010 report from the College Board, the median earnings of a bachelor's recipient working full-time year-round were $55,700 in 2008 — or $22,000 more than the median earnings of a high school graduate — and the unemployment rate of high school graduates in 2009 was 2.6 times higher than that for college graduates.

UC's six-year graduation rates are very good, especially compared to peer institutions. Universitywide, 82 percent of the freshmen who entered UC in fall 2002 graduated within six years compared to 75 percent of freshmen who entered the other public research universities that constitute the Association of American Universities. Nationally, only about 55 percent of all freshmen who entered a public four-year college or university in fall 2004 graduated within six years.

Important differences in graduation rates exist, however, among students from different demographic groups. In Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, William Bowen, Matthew Chingos and Michael McPherson (2009) found that 83 percent of high socio-economic (SES) students at the AAU public flagship universities they studied — that is, at UC's peer public institutions — graduated within six years compared to 68 percent of low SES students — a gap of 15 percentage points. They also found significant gaps in graduation rates by race/ethnicity and gender: Asian and white women, for example, were the most likely to graduate in six years, followed by white males, Hispanic females and African American females, and last by Hispanic and African American males.5

Similar trends were found in a 1999 report, Charting a Necessary Path, released by the Education Trust. That report found that about 45 percent of low-income and underrepresented minority students entering as freshmen in 1999 at 24 public university systems (including the CSU system in California but not the UC system) had received bachelor's degrees six years later compared with 57 percent of other students — a gap of 12 percentage points. There are similar gaps in the educational attainment of students by family income, parental education, race/ethnicity, and gender at UC as well. However, the overall graduation rates are higher, and the gaps in graduation rates between more advantaged and less advantaged students, are not as great at UC as they are at peer universities, indicating that a higher proportion of disadvantaged low-income, first-generation and URM students graduate from UC than from peer institutions.

Graduation rates by family income

Graduation rates correlate with family income — the higher the family income, the more likely a student is to graduate, and to graduate in four years rather than six. As Table 1 shows, 80 percent of the lowest-income students at UC graduated in six years compared to 86 percent of the highest-income students — a gap of 6 percentage points. However, as Table 2 shows,at the comparison 21 public AAUs that Bowen et al studied, 70 percent of the lowest-income students graduated in six years compared to 83 percent of the top-income students — a gap of 13 percentage points. Lower-income students at both UC and the 21 AAU publics also took somewhat longer to graduate than higher-income students as measured by four-year graduation rates, but again, the four-year graduation rates for the lowest-income students were significantly higher at UC than at the 21 AAU publics (52 vs. 40 percent) and the gap between the lowest- and highest-income group was less at UC than at the AAU publics (12 vs. 18 percentage points).6

Table 1: Four- and six-year graduation rates by family income
Entering freshman cohort, UC, fall 2004

  4 years 6 years
0$-$40,000 52% 80%
$40,000-$80,000 58% 83%
$80,000�$120,000 63% 85%

$120,000 and higher

64% 86%

Table 2: Four- and six-year graduation rates by family income
Entering freshman cohort, 21 public AAUs, fall 1999

  4 years 6 years
Bottom quartile 40% 70%
Second quartile 44% 73%
Third quartile 49% 77%
Fourth quartile 58% 83%

This is remarkable. But why does a gap in graduation rates between high- and low-income students exist at all? Graduation rates are correlated with academic preparation — the higher students' academic preparation levels (based on high school GPAs and SAT/ACT scores), the more likely they are to graduate, and to graduate more quickly, in four years rather than six. Family income is also correlated with academic preparation, and low-income students tend to be less well prepared academically than higher-income students. When UC students are divided into thirds based on their levels of academic preparation, for example, disproportionately more low-income students (47 percent) fall into the bottom third, and disproportionately fewer (20 percent) fall into the top third in terms of academic preparation. However, as Table 3 shows, when academic preparation levels are controlled, differences in six-year graduation rates between high- and low-income students at UC almost completely disappear, especially for the top students.

Table 3: Six-year graduation rates, by academic preparation and family income
Entering freshman cohort, UC, fall 2004

  Academic Preparation
  Bottom Third Middle Third Top Third
0�$40,000 72% 84% 91%
$40,000�$80,000 74% 84% 92%
$80,000�$120,000 73% 87% 93%
$120,000 and higher 77% 87% 92%

UC's generous financial aid programs help level the playing field between high- and low-income students by enabling a large number of low-income students to enter the University, keep the number of hours they work during the academic year under 20 per week,7 and graduate with generally manageable levels of student loan debt.8 However, lower levels of academic preparation reduce graduation rates slightly for low-income students and slightly increase their time-to-degree.

Graduation rates by parental education

First-generation status is also correlated with college graduation rates. As Tables 4 and 5 both show, students whose parents are college graduates are more likely to graduate than students who do not have parents who graduated from college. At UC, 86 percent of students whose parents were college graduates graduated in six years compared to 79 percent of first-generation students. However, a higher proportion of first-generation students graduated from UC compared to the 21 public AAUs in Bowen's sample (79 vs. 70 percent).

Table 4: Four- and six-year graduation rates by family parental education
Entering freshman cohort, UC, fall 2004

  4 years 6 years
First generation 52% 79%
Not first generation 63% 86%

Like low-income students, first-generation students also tend to be less well prepared academically and consequently take longer to complete their degrees. But again, 52 percent completed their degrees in four years at UC compared to 42 percent at the public AAUs in Bowen's sample. Clearly UC is doing a very good job graduating the first-generation students it admits, especially compared to its peers.

Table 5: Four- and six-year graduation rates by parent education
Entering freshman cohort, 21 public AAUs, fall 1999

  4 years 6 years
No college 39% 69%
Some college 42% 71%
College degree 52% 79%
Graduate degree 58% 83%

Graduation rates by race/ethnicity and gender

Graduation rates also vary significantly by race/ethnicity and gender. Across the country, Asians and whites are more likely to graduate from college, and graduate more quickly, than African Americans or Hispanics; women also are more likely to graduate, and graduate more quickly, than men. At UC, proportionately more Asians and whites (86 and 84 percent) in the entering 2004 freshman cohort graduated in six years than African Americans or Chicano/Latinos (76 and 75 percent), and proportionately more women than men (85 and 81 percent).

Gender interacts with race and ethnicity. As Table 6 shows, six-year graduation rates at UC are substantially higher for Asian and white women (88 and 86 percent) than for African American and Chicano/Latino men (72 and 70 percent), producing a six-year graduation rate gap of 18 percentage points between Asian women and Chicano/Latino men. Asian and white men, and African American and Chicano/Latino women, fall in between (84, 81, 78 and 78 percent).

Table 6: Four- and six-year graduation rates by race/ethnicity and gender
Entering freshman cohort, UC, fall 2004

4 years
6 years
4 years
6 years
African American 38% 72% 47% 78%
Chicano/Latino 39% 70% 52% 78%
White 53% 81% 70% 86%
Asian 54% 84% 66% 88%

Like first-generation students, underrepresented minorities tend to come from low-income families and to be less well prepared academically, characteristics which, as we have already seen, tend to be associated with lower graduation rates and longer time-to-degree. Despite this, both four- and six-year graduation rates for all combinations of race/ethnicity and gender are higher at UC than at the 21 AAU public peers. Six-year graduation rates for African American men are especially strong at UC compared to the 21 public AAUs (72 vs. 59 percent).

Table 7: Four- and six-year graduation rates by race/ethnicity and gender
Entering freshman cohort, 21 AAU publics, fall 1999

4 years
6 years
4 years
6 years
African American 26% 59% 45% 72%
Hispanic 32% 66% 48% 76%
White 42% 75% 56% 79%
Asian 47% 78% 60% 85%

The education gap that exists for African American and Hispanic men is well known. Nationally, only about 15 percent of African American men in the 25�29 age group have earned bachelor's degrees, a function of low high school graduation rates, low college enrollment rates, and low college graduation rates. However, as Bowen et alfound, African American males with GPAs below 3.0 were more likely to graduate from more selective institutions than less selective ones. The impact of being held to high academic standards, and to peer and institutional expectations that they will succeed and graduate, is a powerful one.

California's Master Plan for Higher Education, the landmark 1960 legislation that divided public responsibility for postsecondary education among three segments — the University of California, the California State University System, and the California Community Colleges — requires UC to admit freshmen from the top 12.5 percent of California's public high school graduates. While academic preparation levels certainly vary across the UC campuses, the Master Plan requirement to admit high school students from the top eighth of their high school graduating class guarantees that the University will admit only students who are academically well prepared for college. Only three other states — Arizona, Florida and Texas — guarantee admission to a top percentage of high school graduates.

In addition, UC requires that all incoming freshmen complete a rigorous set of high school college preparatory courses that the University has reviewed and approved, and that they maintain a minimum high school GPA of 3.0 in these courses. Academic preparation levels at UC also have risen substantially over the past decade, and a very high percentage of incoming freshmen far exceed minimum admissions requirements (Indicator 2.3). For fall 2010, for example, a third of incoming freshmen had taken 25 or more year-long "a-g" courses (a minimum of 15 is required for admission); three-fifths had weighted high school GPAs of 3.8 or more (weighted GPAs give extra credit for succeeding in difficult courses, such as Advanced Placement courses); and almost three-fifths (57 percent) had SAT scores above 1200. The very high levels of academic preparation that characterize incoming freshmen at UC help explain UC's very high graduation rates for all students — high- and low-income, first-generation and non-first-generation, and URM and non-URM students alike — especially in relationship to UC's AAU peer institutions. Certainly, there are differences among students and across campuses — average SAT critical reading and math scores in 2008 across the UC campuses, for example, ranged from 1042 at Merced to 1319 at Berkeley — nonetheless, UC still admits, and enrolls, a more academically homogenous and higher-performing group of students than most of its AAU public peers.

Six-year graduation rates at the UC campuses ranged from 92 percent at Berkeley for the incoming 2004 freshman class to 71 percent at Riverside. The July 2009 Accountability Sub-Report on Student Success described differences in characteristics of incoming freshmen that help explain differences in six-year graduation rates across the UC campuses. Despite campus (and student) differences in academic preparation, the broader point of this essay is that all entering freshmen at UC are very well prepared academically, especially compared to entering students at other public AAUs, which is why UC's graduation rates for advantaged and less-advantaged students, in general, are higher than those for its AAU public peers.

Institutional context, that is, matters. The high expectations that characterize the academic environment at the UC campuses — expectations of success, achievement and contribution — raise expectations for all students, regardless of family income, parental education, race/ethnicity and gender. Low-income, first-generation, and URM students do take longer to graduate from UC, and their six-year graduation rates are slightly lower than those of more advantaged students, but their overall graduation rates and time-to-degree are higher at UC than at UC's peer institutions, and if Bowen et al are correct, significantly higher than what they would have been had they attended a less selective institution. Enroll at the most challenging university that will accept you, Bowen urges all students, because this is where you are most likely to succeed.

And How Do They Do?

In May 2010, UC's Office of the President surveyed University of California baccalaureate degree recipients 5, 10 and 20 years after receiving their degrees. A total of 86,439 undergraduate alumni — bachelor's degree recipients from the classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004 — were contacted; 6,628 responded, for an overall response rate of 8 percent.9 Among other issues, the survey asked respondents where they lived, what they did for a living, how satisfied they were with their undergraduate experience and with their current job, and what their current income was. As previous sections of this essay have shown, UC admits, and graduates, students from very diverse backgrounds. But how, looking back, do they perceive their undergraduate education and its impact on their life? Does graduation from college help reduce disparities in income and occupational achievement that their parents experienced? And does it help level the playing field for students from both high and low SES backgrounds? To answer these questions, data from the survey were linked to students' race/ethnicity, gender, family income and first-generation status; this section reports initial findings.

Satisfaction with overall academic experience

In general, UC alumni are highly satisfied with their overall academic experience. As Figure 1 shows, 91 percent of respondents from the three graduating classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004 reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with their overall academic experience at UC. They also reported higher levels of satisfaction than UC seniors surveyed in 2010 (Indicators 4.4 and 4.5). Satisfaction increases slightly the farther away alumni are from their undergraduate years; presumably life, time and distance increase satisfaction with one's undergraduate years, though it is also possible that the student experience was genuinely better for those who attended in years past than for those who attended more recently.

Figure 1: Satisfaction of UC alumni with overall academic experience

UC classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004

Figure 1: Satisfaction of UC alumni with overall academic experience

Satisfaction levels are also uniform across student groups. Overall, low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority students from the classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004 were just as satisfied with their UC education as other students. Satisfaction with one's undergraduate education, however, does vary depending upon the issue. Figure 2, which combines survey responses from the graduating classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004, shows that survey respondents were most satisfied with their overall academic experience and the quality of faculty instruction at UC and least satisfied with their access to small classes.

Figure 2: Percent of UC alumni satisfied or very satisfied with:

Figure 2: Percent of UC alumni satisfied or very satisfied with

Was it really worth it?

Survey respondents were also asked whether the benefits of attending UC were worth the cost. About 83 percent of respondents from the class of 1989 strongly agreed compared to about 70 percent from the class of 2004; not surprising, costs indeed were lower in 1989. More striking is the fact that 90 percent or more of students from all three graduating classes agreed (strongly or somewhat) that the benefits of attending UC were worth the cost.

Figure 3: Were the benefits of attending UC worth the cost?
UC classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004

Figure 3: Were the benefits of attending UC worth the cost? UC classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004

Although certainly positive, the level of satisfaction reported by UC graduates does not appear to be unique to UC. In early 2010, about the same time that UC undertook its alumni survey, the American Council on Education surveyed a random sample of 400 recent college graduates (25�39 years old) from two- and four-year institutions about their undergraduate experiences. Among recent graduates, 89 percent believed their education was worth it, even considering the time and money required to attend, and nearly 80 percent reported they would attend the same institution. Although the results varied by institution, clearly recent — as well as not-so-recent — college graduates recognize, and appreciate, the many social and economic benefits that accrue to their college education. This is as true for UC alumni as it is for alumni from other kinds of colleges and universities.

More striking than data on alumni satisfaction is that bearing on UC students' post-graduation employment and income. Here we combined data from all three graduating cohorts into two categories: low SES (first-generation students from low-income families) and high SES (students from middle- or upper-income families whose parents had college degrees). Since the data for the two intermediate categories (low-income/not first-generation, and higher income/first-generation) are basically similar, we present results for just the low SES and high SES students. Table 8 summarizes the results.

Table 8: Employment outcomes of low vs. high SES students
UC classes of 1989, 1999 and 2004

  Low SES Students High SES Students
Employed full- or part-time 88% 84%
Looking for work (unemployed) 4% 3%
Unemployment rate 4.3% 3.4%
Satisfied or very satisfied with course of career so far 83% 84%
Working in same or related field as undergraduate major 60% 66%
Personal income $50,000�$100,000 55% 46%
Personal income over $100,000 21% 29%

Although there are some differences between these two groups of students who entered UC from widely different socio-economic backgrounds, what's striking 5, 10, and 20 years after graduation is how similar they look. More than four-fifths of both groups were currently employed and satisfied with the course of their career to date; about three-quarters were living in California; almost two-thirds were working in the same field as their undergraduate major or one related to it; and three-quarters reported personal incomes above $50,000 (in a state where the per capita personal income was $42,325 in 2010). Not surprising, respondents tended to hold professional positions — in health care, teaching, law, computer technology, sales and marketing, and management.

Granted, there were some small differences between the high and low SES student alumni: Students from lower SES backgrounds were slightly more likely to be employed than students from high SES backgrounds (88 vs. 84 percent) and slightly more likely to be looking for work (4 vs. 3 percent); they were also somewhat less likely to earn more than $100,000 (21 vs. 29 percent). Despite these differences, what's most remarkable is how similar these two vastly different groups of students look after college graduation — a similarity that speaks to the ability of a UC education not only to erase some of the most obvious social class differences that characterized its entering students, but also to promote the social and economic mobility of its least-advantaged students. Unfortunately we do not have access to comparable data to assess the extent to which UC graduates are similar to, or different from, those of peer institutions in this regard.


Study after study has shown that college graduates earn significantly more than high school graduates, both on an annual basis and cumulatively over their lifetimes. There are exceptions to this generalization, but more important, there are significant differences in earnings potential of college graduates across college majors. A May 2011 report, What's it Worth: The Economic Value of College Majors, from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, used Census Bureau data from more than 3 million bachelor's degree holders in the United States to explore the median salaries and career paths of college graduates over the past 40 years. Some of the results were to be expected. Science, engineering and business majors tended to be better off financially than liberal arts and humanities majors. In addition, the study found that women and underrepresented minority students tended to cluster in low-paying fields that had few opportunities for advancement, such as education and social work; some undergraduate majors also essentially required a graduate degree to secure a good job. This is not altogether surprising, at least for students from underrepresented minorities who are also first-generation college goers. Historically, social mobility has been a multi-generational phenomenon, and some low-paid professional careers, such as teaching, have served as important stepping-stones for the first upwardly mobile generation.

Although data from UC's Undergraduate Alumni Survey are not detailed enough to allow us to explore how students from different racial/ethnic, class and educational backgrounds allocated themselves across different majors and what impact this had on their earnings, they do show some difference in income distribution among graduates from lower and higher socio-economic backgrounds.

Additionally, there are wide disparities by race/ethnicity in terms of how students distribute themselves into both UC's undergraduate and graduate and professional degree programs. African American and Chicano/Latino students, for example, are less likely to enter some of the higher-paying graduate and professional degree majors such as business, engineering and the physical and life sciences and more likely to be found in education, which is one of the lower-paying professions. Medicine is a major exception: in 2008, almost 20 percent of UC's first-year medical students were under-represented students compared to a national average of 14.5 percent (Indicator 8.7). How the differential allocation of students by race/ethnicity, class and first-generation status into both undergraduate and graduate majors affects their future earnings, and their socio-economic mobility in general, is a question for further analysis.

The data are clearer about how UC's selectivity and the relatively rich availability of student financial aid support the success of students from low-income families and underrepresented minorities. UC selects its freshman admits from the top eighth of all California high school graduates and admits qualified community college transfer students. It also defines the curricular pathways students must follow to achieve an offer of admission. In this regard, UC defines its pipeline more rigorously than its peer public institutions; this in turn helps contribute to the relative success of UC's graduates compared to its public peers, at least as measured by their time to degree.

Sustained commitments to student financial aid at the state, federal and institutional levels have also been essential to maintaining access for, and supporting the success of, low- and middle-income students, especially as costs to attend the University have increased in recent years. Pell grants represented $286 million (or about 20 percent) of the grants and scholarships available to UC undergraduates in 2009-10. A range of proposals to scale back the federal Pell grant program to varying degrees could put at risk financial support to low-income students.

At the state level, the Cal Grant program contributed $425 million (or another 30 percent) of all grants and scholarships available to UC undergraduates in 2009-10. That program too is at risk owing to the state's continuing structural financial challenges. Should either of these programs be scaled back significantly we would likely see higher levels of student debt, more hours of student work, or a reduction in the number of highly talented but financially needy students aspiring to attend UC. If this were to happen, UC's ability to promote the social mobility of large numbers of disadvantaged students — and their ability to rise above the cumulative weight of race, class and social disadvantages — could be severely compromised.


Increasing access and graduation rates for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students is a societal issue; no single institution can do it alone. But to the extent that UC is able to continue to open its doors to underprivileged students in California and foster their success, it helps promote social and economic equality. And to the extent that the disadvantaged students it admits graduate in significant numbers and go on to achieve occupational and professional success, it demonstrates to the state of California, and to the people of California, what can be accomplished by a very high quality public research university. To succeed in that mission, the University needs continuing high levels of support both for its very successful student financial aid programs, and for its academic programs in general. Academic preparation of students from underrepresented and low-income families is also vital since UC's effectiveness as an engine for social mobility can only really be felt by students who are admitted to, attend and graduate from the university.

Sources Cited

American Council on Education, "Recent Graduates Say Degrees are Worth Time, Money Spent," Dec. 13, 2010.

Bowen, William, Matthew Chingos and Michael McPherson, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Capitol Weekly, "California: A Breathtaking Example of Diversity," April 7, 2011.

Carnevale, Anthony, Jeff Strohl and Michelle Melton, What's it Worth: The Economic Value of College Majors, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, May 2011.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Almanac issue, 2010�11.

College Board, "Education Pays 2010: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society," Sept. 2010.

Education Trust, Charting a Necessary Path: The Baseline Report of the Access to Success Initiative, 2009.

Grodsky, Eric and Michal Kurlaender, eds., Equal Opportunity in Higher Education: The Past and Future of California's Proposition 209, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2010.

Hartle, Terry, quoted in CBS San Francisco, "Brown Warns of Soaring UC Costs in All Cuts Budget," April 6, 2011.

Kiley, Kevin,"Major Decisions,"Inside Higher Ed, May 24, 2011.

Project on Student Debt, "Quick Facts about Student Debt," updated January 2010.

Public Policy Institute of California, CA 2025, 2011 Update.

———, "Closing the Gap: Meeting California's Needs for College Graduates," April 2009.

University of California Office of the President, 2011�12 Budget for Current Operations.

———, Annual Accountability Sub-Report on Diversity, Sept. 2010.

———, Annual Accountability Sub-Report on Student Success, July 2009.

———, Annual Report on Student Financial Support, 2009�10, March 2011.

———, California Master Plan for Higher Education — Major Features.

———, State Higher Education Profiles, Expanded and Revised, October 29, 2009.

———, The UC Campuses: Selected Points of Comparison.

———, Undergraduate Access and Excellence at UC, Outlook for 2010�11.

1The Association of American Universities (AAU) is a nonprofit organization of 60 U.S. and two Canadian leading public and private research universities; of the 34 U.S. public research university members, six are UC campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara.

2 U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS). Research universities were designated as "very selective" based on their freshmen admit rate, SAT/ACT scores of entering freshmen, and freshman admissions requirements.

3Information comes from 18 (of 28) non-UC AAU publics and 21 (of 26) AAU privates that provided enrollment breakdowns by race/ethnicity to the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

4Following UC policy, this essay uses the term "Chicano/Latino" when referring to UC students; following AP style and Census Bureau conventions, it uses the term "Hispanic" when discussing population dynamics or college students nationally.

5Bowen et al collected demographic and graduation rate data for the 1999 entering freshman cohort from 21 research-intensive flagship universities, all of which were members of the Association of American Universities. The institutions reflected a mix of geographic diversity and other characteristics, including differences in racial composition and selectivity. The 21 universities included two UC campuses: Berkeley and UCLA. Other participating universities were: Maryland-College Park, Michigan-Ann Arbor, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Virginia, Penn State, Rutgers, Florida, Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Texas-Austin, Washington-Seattle, Wisconsin-Madison, Iowa State, Ohio State, Purdue, Stony Brook, University of Iowa, Minnesota-Twin Cities, Nebraska, and Oregon.

6 The federal government does not collect national data on college graduation rates by income and first generation status in its IPEDS reporting system. Bowen's database from the 1999 entering freshmen cohort at 21 public AAU flagships is thus the best and most recent comparative data available. Not only does it come from a large group of public AAU research universities that are UC's peers, but it includes data from two UC campuses — Berkeley and UCLA — which have very high graduation rates overall. Although we reported 2004 graduation rate data for UC since it is the most recent available, the basic trends reported here would hold up if one were to compare 1999 graduation data for UC to 1999 data for the 21 AAU publics.

7The number of hours UC students work during the academic year is relatively low and does not vary by family income. According to the 2010 University of California Cost of Attendance Survey, 55 percent of low-income students did not work at all, and only 7 percent worked more than 20 hours per week, which is beyond the upper bound of what the University considers manageable (University of California 2009�10 Annual Report on Student Financial Support, Figure 1-21, p. 30).

8According to the 2009�10 Annual Report on Student Financial Support, about 60 percent of low-income students (family incomes below $50,000) graduated from UC with student debt; however, the level of that debt, on average, did not rise between 2003 and 2009 and was below $17,000 (Figure 1-27, p. 36). In contrast, using data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, the Project on Student Debt estimated that among graduating seniors who ever received a Pell grant, 87 percent had student loans in 2008. Those Pell grant recipients, who graduated from both public and private colleges, had an average debt of $24,800 ("Quick Facts about Student Debt,"January 2010).

9 Although the response rate was lower than hoped for, survey respondents were similar to their graduating college classes in terms of gender, ethnicity, entry status (freshman vs. transfer), first-generation status, first language spoken at home, final UC GPA, campus, and Pell grant recipient status. This suggests that the sample is representative of graduating cohorts, at least in terms of basic demographic characteristics. We have no way of ascertaining whether the sample might be biased in other ways, for example, whether UC alumni who were employed, earning relatively high salaries, or highly satisfied with their undergraduate education were more likely to respond, or not.